If Beaumont is known at all, it’s known for its contribution to the Texas oil boom during the first half of the last century.
This medium-sized city (population 115,282) sits near the Gulf of Mexico coast in southeast Texas, a short drive from the border with Louisiana. It was here where oil was discovered in 1901.
The eruption of the Lucas geyser transformed what had been a very small town literally overnight. With oil as the industry, Beaumont’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed.
One legacy of the past is a spectacular church — the kind of landmark you would never expect to find in Beaumont.
At first glance, St. Anthony’s Cathedral Basilica (Roman Catholic) looks somewhat typical.
Built between 1903 and 1907 using bricks salvaged from Civil War-era buildings, the church with its dedication to Anthony of Padua was elevated to the dignity of a cathedral upon the creation of the Diocese of Beaumont in 1966. It later received its minor basilica title from Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 after an extensive renovation was carried out by Rolf Rohn of Rohn & Associates.
With the Basilica of St. Clement, an ancient church in Rome, serving as inspiration, the $6 million renovation transformed the cathedral of a diocese in flyover country into what it is today. So much so that casual connoisseurs of all things ecclesiastical architecture and religious art are surprised, as they generally think churches like this can only be found in Europe.
While parts of the design are compromised by the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council — the altar faces westward toward congregants in the pews and the communion railings are long gone — the interior is up there with the best churches anywhere in the United States.
Among the most notable details are the baldachin, as the canopy above the altar is called, and the apse at the east end with its painted murals. There is also a small collection of holy relics, as typically found at a Roman Catholic cathedral or basilica. Outside, the west front’s bronze doors, which were crafted in Poland, feature numerous reliefs.
Besides St. Anthony’s, also worth visiting are St. Mark’s Church (Episcopal) and First United Methodist Church. In particular, the Methodist church combines the familiarity of Gothic pointed arches with modernist architecture — a welcome deviation from the brutalist style that dominated buildings around the time of its construction in 1968.
Outside of the churches, the interwar-era Temple Emanuel (Reform Judaism) has beautiful stained-glass windows depicting the prophets Jeremiah, Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Moses and Isaiah.
If you go
Besides Sunday masses and other regular services, St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Docents are available for free guided tours if arrangements are made ahead of time.
The closest major airport is about 90 miles away in Houston. From New Orleans and Dallas, the drive is four and five hours respectively.
Stay at the Holiday Inn & Suites Beaumont-Plaza.
Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.